George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire presents us with a lot of tough, ass-kicking female characters. There’s Daenerys Targaryen, also known as Daenerys Stormborn, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, and one damn strong warrior. There’s Arya Stark, assassin-in-training, the self-titled ghost of Harrenhal. There’s Brienne of Tarth, also known as Brienne the Beauty, one of the only truly noble knights in Westeros. And we have warrior women like Asha Greyjoy and Maege and Dacey Mormont, and tough wildling warriors like Osha and Ygritte. Being a woman in Westeros isn’t easy, but some manage to break through the ranks and establish themselves as formidable forces of nature, skilled with swords, daggers, and dragons.
But there are more ways than one to show strength in Westeros. This woman shows her own strength of character and incredible growth over the series without ever learning how to wield a sword. It’s time to talk about how much I love Sansa Stark. (WARNING: Behind the cut lies spoilers for all four Song of Ice and Fire books.)
Name: Sansa Stark
Why She Rocks: I will admit that I did not like Sansa at all when I first read A Game of Thrones. There didn’t seem much to like. She was naive, shallow, and far too obsessed with stories of knights and ladies and pretty songs and dresses. Basically, she was annoying because she liked girly stuff – unlike her awesome little sister Arya, who wanted to be a knight. She was also completely blind to Joffrey’s cruelty, or excused his behavior as the act of a boy who had too much wine to drink. Sure, I felt sorry for her when Cersei demanded the execution of Lady, her direwolf, but Sansa was still annoying and didn’t DESERVE point-of-view chapters.
Then I carefully read Sansa’s chapter as she watched the tourney and thought she might be interesting, after all. She was oddly calm as she watched the jousting, even when one of the knights died by accident. And then she wound up in close company with Sandor Clegane, the Hound – a huge, brutal, scarred, terrifying man, as he relayed the story of how his elder brother pushed his face into fire and burned his skin. As Sansa listened to this story, she was horrified, scared, and wanting to be anywhere else…but she still gently touched him and tried to comfort him by saying his brother was no true knight. I read this and was impressed. Sansa’s kindness trumped her fear.
Then I saw Sansa spill all of the beans to Cersei about Ned’s plans to leave King’s Landing, and I hated her again. Stupid Sansa, ruining all of Ned’s plans to get them out of that lion’s den. Stupid, stupid Sansa for trusting Cersei and Joffrey over her own father. I didn’t even like her when she begged mercy for her father because it was her own stupid fault for putting him in that position. STUPID SANSA. I HATE YOU.
But then Joffrey cut off her father’s head and everything changed.
Apparently, all a writer needs to do in order to make an unlikable character likable is to kill off the girl’s father. Who knew? You’d have to be made of stone to not feel sorry for Sansa in this situation. Ned Stark’s murder was heartbreaking and tragic for all of the Starks, but Sansa was the only character who was forced to see her father’s death. Poor Sansa.
Ned’s death made me feel very sorry for Sansa. But I was shocked to find myself actually liking her. (Now I’m switching from past to present tense intentionally, to show how I felt about Sansa then and how I feel about her now.) It began when Joffrey orders Sansa to look at her father’s head. She thinks to herself, “He can make me look, but he can’t make me see.” Where did I hear something like that before? Oh yes, from her little sister Arya, whose mantra is, “Fear cuts deeper than swords.” Sansa looks at her father’s head without crying, and when Joffrey threatens to make her a present of her brother Robb’s head, she says, “Maybe he’ll give me yours.” OMG, GO SANSA! Joffrey then orders one of his Kingsguard to hit her, and after the Hound gives her some advice and tends to her wounded lip, we leave Sansa in the lion’s den at the end of A Game of Thrones.
Life gets progressively worse for Sansa in A Clash of Kings. Joffrey continues to have his Kingsguard beat her whenever he gets angry (or whenever it amuses him). The only people who seem to effectively protect her from Joffrey’s wrath are his uncle Tyrion Lannister (because he’s a decent human being) and Sandor Clegane (because he loves her, duh). She learns to be careful, to parrot the lines she was taught to survive, and to trust no one. But she manages to hold onto a different type of strength. During the Battle of the Blackwater, she tries to keep up the spirits of the women waiting for news of the war, thinking of others even when she’s terrified for her life. When Sandor Clegane threatens her at knifepoint and demands that she sing for him (not that I think he would ever actually harm her), she does, and then cups his cheek when she’s done, before calls her “little bird” one last time and flees. (Excuse me while I shed a tear. I have a lot of affection for that very messed-up ship.) Ser Dontos later comforts her with a gift, but Sansa’s grown up enough to know that she needs a ship to take her to safety, not more songs and empty promises.
Life gets EVEN WORSE for Sansa in A Storm of Swords. She’s forced to marry Tyrion, and I know some fans hate her for not seeing that he’s kind to her, but in her defense, the girl is nothing but a pawn for the Lannisters’ game. I have a hard time being upset with her for not falling all over the man she was forced to marry just because he doesn’t rape her. (Besides, she does eventually acknowledge that Tyrion treated her well.) She also later finds out that her mother and brother Robb were murdered at the Red Wedding. As far as she knows, she’s the only Stark left. And when she escapes with Littlefinger and moves to the Eyrie, she manages to find some inner strength and peace by building her own Winterfell out of snow, in a scene that always makes me cry.
Now Sansa is living as Alayne Stone in the Eyrie. She’s proving to be a better mother figure for Robert Arryn than Lysa ever was and may just manage to turn the spoiled (yet neglected) little brat into a decent kid. Of course, because she’s Sansa, and Sansa has rotten luck, she’s still under the thumb of Littlefinger, a man much more interested in perving all over her than Joffrey ever was, and a much cleverer man at that. Still, I can’t help but feel that Sansa is poised to eventually take Petyr Baelish down once and for all after she sees him for what he is.
I hear that Sansa will not be getting any point of view chapters in A Dance with Dragons, and that makes me sad. I still think she’s meant to do something great, though, and the little bird surrounded by monster will break free and enforce some change.